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Gov’t chief negotiator sees signing of MILF peace accord by March

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COTABATO CITY, Philippines—The government is optimistic that the final peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  will be signed by March, government peace panel head Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said Saturday.

In a statement following the 35th round of “exploratory talks” held in Kuala Lumpur this week, Coronel-Ferrer acknowledged that the current discussions toward a comprehensive pact with the rebels “had been very challenging.”

Among those to be discussed in February, when the two panels are to meet again, would be the remaining details of the annexes on power- and wealth-sharing.

The annexes will define in detail the Framework Agreement signed last October for the establishment of the Bangsamoro entity that would replace the current set-up of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal had said earlier that the annexes on power- and wealth-sharing will be the stickiest issues in the peace talks.

The Inquirer learned that during the latest talks, the two parties failed to complete defining the annexes although they had come up with drafts of the annexes on normalization and transition.

Coronel-Ferrer said the two parties “have a clearer process now and a more definitive estimate of our timeframes to complete the comprehensive agreement.”

While the definition of the annexes on power- and wealth-sharing had yet to be completed, Coronel-Ferrer said the negotiators also achieved another important milestone and that was when they signed the Terms of Reference for the Third Party Monitoring Team.

This body, to be composed of representatives from local and international non-governmental organizations,  will help “review, assess, evaluate and monitor the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its Annexes,” she said.

It will continue to function until an Exit Agreement between the two parties is reached, Coronel-Ferrer added.

Aside from the terms of reference for the third-party monitor, she said,  the panels also agreed to extend the tour of duty of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group for another year “in recognition of their important roles in the peace process.”

Iqbal shared Coronel-Ferrer’s projection by saying the negotiators were “moving toward the right direction.”

He did not provide specific target month though but said “hopefully very soon, we would be able to conclude our negotiations on the substantive issues.”

“I think, for now, the light at the end of the tunnel is no longer flickering — it’s very clear. And with the continued commitment and decisiveness of all the parties, I think, God willing, we will be able to finish the process,” Iqbal said.

He said even as some of the annexes remain undefined after the latest round of negotiations, members of the peace panels were “not entertaining any (thought of) failure in these negotiations.”

“Our minds, our hearts are focused that we must be able to conclude this process successfully,” Iqbal said.

Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohammed was quoted in a government press release as saying that  “initially, we (Malaysian government) are a bit pessimistic because of the slowness of the progress especially on the working groups. But as it turned out I think the working groups are moving fast, especially in the last two days to the conclusion of the agreement.”

He said three more items need to be completed on wealth-sharing and two more on power-sharing but the draft annex on  transitional arrangements and modalities has already been completed by the Technical Working Group (TWG) and will just be reviewed for conclusion by the panels.

Meanwhile, a senior MILF official urged President Benigno Aquino to prevent the Department of Environment and Natural Resources  from taking control of the supervision of Lake Lanao by declaring it a protected area.

Bangsamoro Development Agency  chair  Dr. Saffrullah Dipatuan said that by doing so, Aquino will be supporting “any arrangement that will be agreed upon by the peace negotiating panels” on the control of the wealth of the future political entity’s resources.

Lake Lanao supplies water to the Agus hydropower system, an important power facility in Mindanao.

Dipatuan noted that the matter of the management of Lake Lanao “is an integral part of the ongoing negotiations on power and wealth sharing that must not be decided upon unilaterally by any party.”

“We are earnestly asking President Aquino to stop the move to include Lake Lanao under the coverage of the (National Integrated Protected Areas System) Act,” Dipatuan said.

Under the law, protected areas are under the DENR’s direct control.

Last October, the MILF also called on Aquino to hold the bidding for oil and natural gas blocks in Central Mindanao and in the Sulu Sea pending a definitive wealth-sharing arrangement.


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Tags: MILF , Mindanao , Moro Islamic Liberation Front , peace process




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